To call Bethel Park junior forward Nick Schindehette's blistering start to the season "eye-opening" could be considered an understatement.
Not even a member of the varsity team last year, Schindehette scored 10 goals by the seventh game of this season. Playing through some nagging injuries since, he's boosted his total to an impressive 17 goals.
"I can't say enough good things about how he's playing," Bethel Park coach Mike Galietta said. "A lot of his goals have been big, big goals. He has this knack for scoring the big goal."
Schindehette's atypical arrival on the scene has actually been typical for Bethel Park this season, and one reason why the team has not only survived, but thrived despite graduating seven starters, 11 seniors total from last year's team and losing one of its top players to injury early in the season.
With a 13-4-1 record overall and 10-1-1 mark in Section 4-AAA, the Black Hawks captured their second section title in three years. Though impressive, it could just as easily have been a three-year streak of titles had they not hit a rough patch at the tail end of the 2012 season.
After a 13-2, 9-1 start last year, Bethel Park dropped three of its final four contests, including its first-round WPIAL playoff match against Fox Chapel Area.
"Since day one, we've talked about how we controlled our own destiny last year and it fell away. Nothing against Fox Chapel, it just sticks in the craw," Galietta said. "The way we ended last year definitely is motivation for this year."
With the difficult finish and high level of attrition, the Black Hawks faced a number of questions from the start, especially following a 1-0 loss to Moon Area in the season opener and the loss of key junior defender Anthony Rack. But answers quickly began to surface.
Schindehette emerged as a serious goal scorer. Senior T.J. Gallagher, typically a midfielder, transitioned seamlessly into a solid center back.
"T.J. is very adaptive," said senior Dan Vater, a two year starter at center back. "Anthony is a very skilled player, but T.J. has managed to fill the role and has exceeded expectations."
They've also found a knack for scoring goals on set pieces, be it from the corner, a free kick or the long throw-in. Service from senior midfielder Mike Guerrero, senior right back Asher Byrne and senior midfielder Billy Ruschel has set the plate, as has the ability to utilize two players adept at long throw-ins with distinct styles in Gallagher and junior midfielder Matt Monte.
Another thing that plays to their advantage on dead balls? A healthy disregard for safety.
"Everyone just goes as hard as they can," Vater said. "The lack of fear is what makes us dangerous."
Following its season-opening loss, Bethel Park only lost one of its next 12 games. Even more key was that when the Black Hawks finally did drop a section game -- late in the season to fellow front-runner Mt. Lebanon -- they bounced right back. A 4-0 win against Baldwin two days later secured the section title.
"You don't have a lot of time to dwell on [the loss]," Galietta said.
He said that he told the players before the game to think back to Aug. 12, when the preseason was in its infancy, and asked if everyone would be happy to be in a position to wrap up the section title. He was met with no resistance.
"The point was, eh, Tuesday was a blip," he said. "Full credit to Lebo, they deserved to win. But I think most of the team, not all of them, but most of them were part of [last year's] team. ... I think we just put a focus on [winning the section title] all season from the very beginning; maybe we just trained ourselves to realize that the opportunity was still there for the taking."
And they took it.
The Black Hawks may have ended their regular season on a high note, but by the sound of it they're far from finished yet.
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM